Making Things Move: DIY Mechanisms for Inventors, Hobbyists, and Artists - Dustyn Roberts (2010)

Chapter 9. Making Things and Getting Things Made

Materials, components, and general fastening techniques were covered in earlier chapters. Here, we cover how to actually make something or get someone else (or a machine) to make it for you.

The process starts with a design—whether it’s a napkin sketch or a full 3D computer-generated assembly model. From there, some projects can be made by hand by sawing wood or putting together off-the-shelf components. Other projects lend themselves to modern rapid prototyping techniques that use digital files directly, including 3D printing and laser cutting. And some projects are suited to machining or other manufacturing techniques. Then you need to put everything together. Finally, since you don’t really make a sound unless someone is around to hear it, the last step in any creation is sharing it. This might inspire someone else to attempt a version of your idea, therefore restarting the cycle.

The Making Things Move Ecosystem

Each phase in the “making things” cycle has methods you can do by hand (analog) and useful ways to use computerized machines and software to help (digital). We’ll call this the making things move ecosystem. As shown in Figure 9-1, the phases of this ecosystem are creation, translation, fabrication, integration, and proliferation.

NOTE This chapter is inspired by and heavily based on Dominic Muren’s Dorkbot Seattle talk on The Digifab Ecosystem. See the original slides and video at

The phases in this ecosystem are organized in the same way you would go through the steps in real life. However, it helps to have the method of fabrication in mind when initially designing a part or mechanism—a practice called design for manufacture by the pros. So, it may be helpful to skim through this chapter once before digging into a new project.

FIGURE 9-1 The phases of the making things move ecosystem



In order for a part or component to be created physically, it first needs to be described. If you plan to make something with a machine like a laser cutter or 3D printer, you need to describe your part digitally. If you plan on cutting and shaping materials by hand, you can use more analog techniques to describe your part or mechanism.

Analog Creation

The simplest way to describe something is to think about it in detail. If you need to cut off an inch of a closet rod to fit between two brackets, you probably won’t use a computer program to model it. You’ll just think about it and do it.

The next step up in describing your part or mechanism is sketching your ideas on paper. This helps you to plan things and get an idea of scale, and maybe of how different parts will fit together. Most mechanisms, regardless of whether they’re fabricated by hand or computerized machines, begin life as 2D sketches on napkins and scrap paper.

You might also sketch in 3D. No, this doesn’t mean wearing 3D glasses while you draw or standing your paper up against the wall. This means using reconfigurable and/or disposable materials to visualize your ideas in three dimensions. LEGOs are perfect for this, especially a LEGO set that has gears, motors, and a variety of other components you can use to make simple machines. LEGO sells several simple machines and motorized mechanisms kits that are perfect for this purpose. Some universities have entire rooms filled with LEGO parts to aid in the prototyping stage of creation. You can also use paper, popsicle sticks, straws, string, balsa wood, clay, hot glue, or any other material that is quick to work with, so you spend time thinking in 3D and not refining your project—yet.

Digital Creation

The computer programs you can use to visualize your designs are collectively called CAD programs. CAD stands for computer-aided design. But most of these programs can do more than aid you. They can also create digital files that you can use to make parts directly. We’ll talk more about fabrication from digital files later in the chapter.

NOTE Whether you are going to make parts by hand or have them made by a machine, CAD software is still a handy tool to have in your prototyping toolbox. A student of mine conveyed this idea well. After using Alibre Design software to model a part in 3D that was later cut out of flat sheets of plastic, he said, “I went and 3D modeled it anyway, because it’s really helpful for visualization.”

The type of object you want to make will dictate the software you use and the type of file you will create. Read on for tools for both 2D design, 3D design, and software that lets you create entire assemblies of parts.

2D Design

2D design is the digital version of sketching on paper. You’re already familiar with one 2D program if you made your own gears in Chapter 7. In Project 7-1, we used Inkscape, an open source vector-drawing program similar to Adobe Illustrator. These programs can create lines that computers are able to read, which is how a laser cutter knew how to cut the gear shapes we made.

A more sophisticated tool that’s still simple and affordable is QCAD ( QCAD is designed to create parts and 2D plans, while Inkscape and Illustrator are primarily drawing programs.

The next step up is to use full-blown CAD packages like AutoCAD for part design, but this is overkill (and over budget!) for a lot of beginners. See Table 9-1 for a comparison of 2D and 3D modeling programs.

3D Design

Most 3D parts start life as 2D sketches that are pushed, pulled, or otherwise formed into 3D models on your computer screen. Some programs use a kind of wire mesh frame to create objects, others use solid shapes, and a few use more of a direct mathematical language.1 Solid modeling programs talk to fabrication machines the best, but designers with any computer science or programming experience might prefer the math-based ones.

Table 9-1 lists the computer programs available for 2D and 3D modeling. In order to navigate the large number of options, look for the asterisks (*), which indicate favorites, the notes that include ease of use, and the x’s that indicate on which platforms the software will run.

NOTE You can use Boot Camp, Parallels, or VMware Fusion to run Windows-only programs on a Mac.

An exciting feature of some of the 3D modeling programs listed in Table 9-1 is that you can create assembly files that include multiple parts, and relate the parts to each other just as they do in real life. This allows you to move parts around on the screen to mimic their real functions, and make sure the pieces don’t jam into each other when they move, so there’s plenty of space for the range of motion you want.

TABLE 9-1 Programs for 2D and 3D Modeling





Using assemblies also allows you to download CAD files of all kinds of off-the-shelf components directly from McMaster and other vendors. You can then assemble them on your screen before buying anything, so you make sure everything fits together perfectly. With 63,000 component CAD files currently available on McMaster alone, this can save you a ton of time.

Assemblies allow you to visualize what your final mechanism will look like, while keeping the part files separate from each other. This way, one part can represent an off-the-shelf motor, another part can be exported for 3D printing, and another can be made into a drawing to send to a laser cutter.

Project 9-1: Download and Open a 3D Model of a Part

Of the programs listed in Table 9-1, only a few include the built-in ability to make assemblies of parts: SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor, Pro/ENGINEER, and Alibre Design Personal. Let’s step through an example using the most affordable option: Alibre Design. Alibre’s mission is “... providing full parametric CAD technology to anyone that needs it, versus only to those in the relatively unique financial position to afford traditional CAD systems.”


1. Download Alibre Design from It starts with a free 30-day trial of the Pro version, and then you can choose to purchase the Personal edition (currently $99) to maintain functionality.

2. Go to the McMaster site ( and find the part you want to download. As shown in Figure 9-2, I chose a standard 1/4-20 by 1 in long stainless steel socket head cap screw (92196A542). Check in the sidebar to see if 3-D Model is an option (if not, find another part that does have this option).

3. Click 3-D Model, and you’ll get a drop-down menu that gives you options of 3D models or 2D technical drawings to download. Choose 3D STEP, IGES, or SAT—all of these work with Alibre Design. Download the part and save it somewhere you’ll remember.

FIGURE 9-2 Downloading a 3D model from McMaster-Carr


4. Open Alibre Design. From the main screen, choose File | Import and look for the file you just downloaded. Open the file, and then click OK when asked about Import File Options.

5. Voila! The CAD file of the part should pop up on your screen, as shown in Figure 9-3. Use the Rotate button to spin the model around, and the Measuring tool (select Tools | Measurement Tool) to confirm the file was imported correctly.

FIGURE 9-3 Importing a CAD model into Alibre Design


CAUTION Just because you can create a virtual assembly, doesn’t mean you can create an actual assembly. As a frustrated intern at Make magazine put it (, “I’m trying to get the Arduino into the robot body. Suddenly I learn a profound lesson regarding computer-aided design. In real life, circuit boards cannot morph through walls into their desired resting place. In the computer, it happens all the time. With a simple motion of the mouse, the Arduino circuit board has glided into place, right through the aluminum robot body ... but in real life, it won’t fit. There is no possible angle or tilt that will get the Arduino into the robot. Out come the vise-grips and hacksaw. I saw, bend, and twist off the offending aluminum tabs. This is reality-aided design.”1


In order to make anything, you need to translate your idea, sketch, or computer model it into something makeable. If you are doing this by hand, translation may be as easy as making a pencil marking on some wood before cutting. If you are using a digital fabrication technique, you might need to save the file in a different format than the default, or use software to translate a model or drawing into code that a fabrication machine can understand.

No matter which method you are using to make your part, you need to choose the material for it. This is an important step in translating the design from your paper or computer into something real. For example, you can’t make a 3D printed part out of wood (yet), but you could laser-cut layers of wood and glue them together to create a 3D model. Refer to Chapter 2 for an extensive list of materials and their uses. In the fabrication discussion later in this chapter, we’ll cover more ways to cut and work with different materials.

Analog Translation

If you have a design drawn on a piece of paper and you want to cut it out of a flat piece of material, you have at least three ways to do this:

• Trace the design on tracing paper with a pencil. Turn over the traced drawing and tape it to the material. Use the back of a spoon to press on the drawing lines and transfer the pencil to the material.

• Use the previous technique to transfer the drawing onto card stock, so you can cut it out and use it as a template.

• Take the original sketch (or a photocopy), spray the back lightly with spray mount adhesive, and then stick it to the wood, aluminum, cardboard, or other material you’re working with. Now you have a template you can use to make your cuts.

CAUTION If you use spray mount adhesive, make sure your workspace has plenty of ventilation, and you may want to wear a mask. Spray mount doesn’t taste good, and it has a tendency to get everywhere.

Digital Translation

If you created a part using a solid modeling program (like Alibre Design), you can skip right to tool-path generation. If you used a mesh modeler (like Rhino), you may need to check or clean up your design first before sending a file to a fabrication machine. You can also create 3D objects to make with 2D methods by slicing or unfolding the model. Here are the digital translation possibilities:

• Cleanup MeshLab (an open source program for processing 3D meshes) and Blender allow you to clean up 3D files generated in mesh modeling programs. Sometimes models generated by these programs can be nonmanifold. This means that a fabrication machine might not know which surface is the inside and which is the outside, or be otherwise confused.

• Unfolding If you’ve designed a 3D part that you want to make out of 2D material or fabric, a few programs can figure out the unfolding or slicing for you. If you used Google SketchUp, you can download an Unfoldtool plug-in for free from Pepakura Designer is a low-cost program that breaks down 3D models into 2D panels that can be folded from paper to create the 3D object. Lamina Design and Rhino offer more unfolding options and flexibility (for a slightly higher price).

• Tool-path generation Tool-path generation programs can take 3D models and break them down into tool paths and layers that machines like laser cutters and 3D printers understand. Some options are ReplicatorG, Skeinforge, Pleasant3D, and SketchUp SliceModeler.


There are two ways to make something: do it yourself or get someone (or something) to do it for you. The problem with doing it yourself is that it can take a long time. To determine the actual amount of time it will take to make something, consider the rule of pi: multiply how long you think it will take by pi (3.14). This rule of pi is surprisingly accurate. So in the spirit of getting things done, whenever possible, get someone or something to make it for you.

Remember that DIY doesn’t have to mean do it all yourself. Hack together off-the-shelf parts instead of making things from scratch. You can still breathe life into your mechanism during the integration phase, but if you spend too much time in fabrication, you may never get there. That said, there will be times when you need to make some simple parts yourself or modify store-bought parts to fit your needs. We’ll go through a handful of useful tools for manual fabrication, and then cover a lot of ways to get custom parts made from digital files. This section covers subtractive methods (cutting away material) and additive methods (creating objects by adding sequential layers of material).

Analog Fabrication

Measure twice, cut once. Actually, make that measure once, go back and check your measurement calculations, measure again, and then cut. We’ll cover a variety of ways to drill and shape materials, most of which you can do without expensive tools. However, if you need a tool you don’t own and don’t want to buy (a lathe, for example), look into local shared workspaces and shops, especially if you live near a big city—there’s TechShop in San Francisco, 3rd Ward in New York City, and The Hacktory in Philadelphia, to name a few. Check the list of hackerspaces at for more. You can also find local machine shops to make custom parts for you.


A portable drill and/or Dremel are handy tools to keep around. A Dremel tool is good for small holes in thin material, but a portable handheld drill is better for drilling bigger or deeper holes quickly, since it has much more torque.

The first step in drilling anything is to put on your safety glasses. Then secure the part you’re working on by clamping it down to your working surface (try a C-clamp or two, such as McMaster 5133A15). If you’re drilling into wood, you can just place the tip of the drill bit where you want the hole and start drilling. If you’re drilling into metal or even plastic, it’s a good idea to use a center punch (like McMaster 3498A11) or other sharp, hard object to make a little dimple for your drill bit to start. This will prevent the always frustrating outcome of the drill bit skipping or walking away from the intended starting point.

The next step up from using a hand drill or Dremel is to use a drill press (see Figure 9-4). The Dremel company makes a setup called the 220-01 WorkStation, which you can use to mount your Dremel tool and create a benchtop drill press for around $40. This allows you to drill holes perpendicular to your work surface as well as at set angles. More heavy-duty drill presses, such as those that sit on your table or stand on the floor, can be found at McMaster for a higher price tag.

A deburring tool (such as McMaster 4289A35) is a handy tool to have available when you are drilling holes in metal. It has a sharp, pivoting head that cleans off the burrs, or little chips of metal, that your drill will leave at the opening and exit of a hole. If you don’t have one, a small circular file or countersink tool will do.

FIGURE 9-4 A drill press


Project 9-2: Drill a Centered Hole Without a Lathe

The first time you try to drill a hole in the center of a rod or shaft, you’ll realize that a hand drill or even a drill press is not the best tool for the job. It’s almost impossible to mark the true center of a rod, let alone drill exactly into that mark. A lathe is designed to work with circular parts, and it is the best tool to use if you need a hole exactly in the center of something. If you don’t have access to a lathe, here is an example of how to best use a drill press to drill a hole in the center of something. (This project is based on Vik Olliver’s blog post at

Shopping List:

• Drill press with a vise (preferably with a small notch in the middle of the jaws) mounted to the base

• Drill bit

• Safety glasses

• Cylindrical part to drill a hole through

• WD-40 or other lubricant/coolant (if your item is metal)


1. Put on your safety glasses and clear your workspace.

2. Put the drill bit in the chuck the wrong way around and tighten the chuck around the smooth base section.

3. Lower the drill press so the bit can be clamped in the vise.

4. Adjust the vise as necessary to accommodate the bit, tighten the vise, and bolt it to the drill press base (see Figure 9-5).

FIGURE 9-5 Drill bit clamped in vise (credit: Vik Olliver)


5. Loosen the chuck so the bit is free. Slowly raise the drill press.

6. Place the rod, shaft, bolt, or whatever you want to drill a hole in the center of into the drill chuck. Tighten it and make sure it is still aligned with the bit by lowering it down for inspection (see Figure 9-6).

7. If your part is metal, dab some WD-40 or other lubricant/coolant onto the drill bit.

8. Turn on the drill press. Using high speed and very little pressure, lower the drill press with your part in the chuck onto the bit. It might vibrate and skip a little initially, but keep pushing until the bit starts drilling and finds the center.

9. Slow down the drill and apply more pressure.

10. Turn off the drill press and inspect your work.

FIGURE 9-6 Part in drill chuck ready to go (credit: Vik Olliver)


CAUTION If your part is long and you need to back the drill bit out to clean it off, do so with something other than your finger to avoid getting cut or burned from touching a hot drill bit.

11. If your part is longer than the drill bit, remove it from the chuck and reverse it. Double-check to make sure you didn’t knock the drill bit off center, and then mount the piece in the chuck in the opposite direction. Repeat the preceding steps to complete the through hole.

Working with Round Parts

A tube cutter is the most economical way to cut tubes without deforming them. If a C-clamp and a pizza cutter had a kid, it would be a tube cutter. The clamp keeps the tube or rod positioned against a sharp, rotating blade, so you can cut into the tube evenly without crushing it and get a clean edge.

If you will be doing a lot of work with circular parts and shafts, a lathe can make your life much easier. Professional lathes can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but small hobbyist-style lathes start around $700 (from Micro-Mark at MICROLUX-7X14-MINI-LATHE,8176.html, for example) and will handle most small jobs easily. A lathe is ideal for drilling holes in the center of rods and shafts or removing a tiny bit of material from the outside of a shaft so it fits perfectly into a wheel or bearing. Metal lathes are meant for precision work, but wood lathes are designed for more artistic-type work, such as fence posts and baseball bats.


You can use many tools to cut things. After scissors, a close second is an X-Acto knife, followed by the knives on multitools (such as Leatherman products). A Dremel tool with a cutting wheel can handle small jobs in wood, plastic, and softer metals like brass and aluminum. Tin snips or sheet metal snips (like McMaster 3902A1) are good for thin metal jobs, and a hacksaw can be used for larger or thicker pieces. For even larger pieces, a band saw is a common piece of equipment to have in a shop. It comes in vertical and horizontal configurations, and can be used to cut just about any material if you can adjust the speed and the blade.

CAUTION When cutting paper or cardboard (or anything), keep all body parts out of the path of the knife. This may seem obvious, but if you’ve ever held some paper with your thumb flared out and then cut right into it, you know that safe cutting practices don’t always come naturally. Save the dissection for biology class and make safety a priority before you cut anything.

Casting and Molding

To cast a part, you first need to create a mold around it that will have the imprint of the part in it. The original part is then removed, sometimes by cutting the mold or with the help of some kind of mold release. Then the cavity in the mold can be filled to create a positive cast that matches the original part. This is generally accomplished by pouring a liquid plastic compound into the mold and letting it cure (harden) before removing it from the mold. Casting is an excellent way to clone an off-the-shelf or 3D printed part. It can be very economical if you need to make several copies of the same part.

One good method is to use silicone rubber for the mold (like Mold Max from, and then a liquid plastic casting compound like Smooth-Cast 300 to make the positive cast. Smooth-Cast has a pretty fast setting time, a 1-to-1 mixing ratio, and it’s easy to work with. You can use dyes to create any color you want, and it can be painted and machined when cured. The Compleat Sculptor ( is a great source for all of these materials, and the shop frequently holds classes in its New York City store.

For the preparation of the negative mold, the main objective is to make sure there are no air bubbles and that the mold can be separated in a logical way. Before the silicone rubber is poured around the original part, you can glue small wooden dowels to it to create channels that will allow air bubbles to escape. A larger, primary dowel also needs to be glued to the part somewhere in the center to create a pour hole.

Working with Wood

Wood can but cut and manipulated with many of the tools mentioned earlier, but there are some additional tools that are specific to woodworking. Planers come in hand-operated and powered versions. They take ragged pieces of wood and shave off the top surface until it is parallel with the bottom surface.

CAUTION Don’t saw or plane used or scavenged wood. Old leftover nails and screws might be embedded, and that could be dangerous.

Although hacksaws and coping saws are good for small jobs by hand, power tools like table saws, jigsaws, routers, miter saws, and circular saws can make big or repetitive jobs much easier. Low-end versions of these will neither leave you broke nor take up much room—even table saws come in extra small.

Make sure you have files and sandpaper around to finish your cuts and avoid splinters.

Working with Metal

A few key tools and machines are used to work with metal. We’ve already talked about drill presses, which you can use with a variety of materials. A more advanced tool that’s similar to a drill press is a mill.

As mentioned in Chapter 7, a milling machine is a fancier version of a drill press where the base moves in the x, y, and z axes, so you can do more than just drill straight down. Although you may never use this machine yourself (it’s large and expensive), it’s helpful to keep it in mind when you’re designing parts you’ll need to have custom made. You can use mills with normal drill bits and also with endmills, which are like drill bits with the tip cut off so they can create holes with flat bottoms and cut along the side of the bit as well. If you do want to try your hand at milling, you can get a very capable mini-mill from for around $650 plus the cost of some basic tools.

Just as you can wrap a paperclip around a pencil with a little work, you can bend many shapes, sizes, and thicknesses of metal in various ways if you have the right tools. All metal forming works like this. You just need the piece of metal and something to wrap around or form it to. Clamps help to hold a metal piece to the form initially, and a rubber mallet or other nonmarring hammer can help convince the metal to bend as you want. For 90° bends, you can clamp sheet metal in a vise and bend it by hand or with the help of a hammer.

Working with Plastics

The same tools and techniques for working with wood and metal also work with plastic. Many power tools (such as jigsaws and circular saws) have blades specifically made for plastics.

If you’re drilling into plastic, especially a type that cracks easily, you can get drill bits made for plastics that will decrease that probability. For cutting thin plastics, scoring it with a knife or other sharp blade can give you a clean edge to break the part along.

Digital Fabrication

For digital fabrication, there are a growing number of ways you can use digital files to create parts directly, both in 2D and 3D.

2D Methods

One method of 2D digital fabrication that everyone is familiar with is your regular desktop inkjet or laser printer. You can print designs on paper to cut out of other material, or print designs onto thicker card stock that you can actually use to make things (see Project 8-2).

The next step up from using a machine to print on something is to use a machine to cut out something. You can do this on vinyl with a vinyl cutter. These machines start at about twice the size and a few times the cost of your average home inkjet printer.

The next step up in 2D digital fabrication is a computer numerically controlled (CNC) router. A CNC router allows you to create a digital design using CAD software, and then upload it to the machine, and the router will cut your material by following the lines and contours in your model. ShopBot ( makes low-cost versions for small businesses and hobbyists, which are used mainly for wood, but the entry-level price is still more than most individuals can handle. However, if you have a community shop near you, you might find one there.

If you made your own gears in Project 7-1, you’re already familiar with a very popular 2D digital fabrication technique: laser cutting. In that example, we used Ponoko to cut gears for us, but you can find plenty of other shops online that do similar custom work. The type and thickness of material you can cut depend on the strength of the laser. In Figure 9-7, you can see how an Eyebeam resident, Ted Southern, used a laser cutter to cut fabric patterns that were later assembled into a prototype spacesuit glove (see

3D Methods

As with 2D digital fabrication work, CNC routers and CNC mills can be used for 3D projects. Routers are designed to do mostly 2D work, but they do have a third axis for small 3D thicknesses. CNC mills can make all kinds of shapes in all kinds of sizes out of a variety of materials.

FIGURE 9-7 Spacesuit glove patterns cut out with Eyebeam’s V-660 Universal Laser Systems cutter (left) and assembled spacesuit glove prototype (right) (credit: Nikolay Moiseev and Ted Southern).


3D printing is the new trend when it comes to manufacturing things quickly. The various systems and machines accomplish it in different ways, but the end result is a real 3D thing that started life as just a CAD model. Engineering and product design companies use these machines to visualize parts and assemblies and troubleshoot designs before final production runs, as well as to impress potential investors. You can use these machines to print actual usable parts in Projects 10-1 and 10-3 in Chapter 10.

In the open source, low-cost arena, MakerBot Industries ( is leading the pack. Their machines make parts by depositing super-thin strands of plastic in layers that stack on top of each other until the part is complete. Industrial-scale machines made by companies like Stratasys do the same thing, but not for around $1,000.

If you don’t have access to a real 3D printer, you certainly have access to virtual ones. Plenty of companies will give you instant online quotes when you upload a model (check and and can be good solutions if you just need one or two parts made.

Another method for making functional parts is called stereolithography (SLA). It uses light to cure a special plastic resin in layers, so a solid part rises up out of a pool of goop. All these parts end up a whitish or yellowish tint, since the base material needs to be light-curable. Other 3D printing machines use different kinds of powders along with some kind of binder or heat to melt the powder together in layers. A commercial example is Z Corp, and an awesome example is CandyFab from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, which prints 3D objects out of layers of melted sugar.


Integration is where all the off-the-shelf motors, nuts, and bolts come in to create a moving thing out of your pile of parts. This is usually the most fun and frustrating step in making things move. The rule of pi applies here as well.

NOTE Here are some words of wisdom to keep in mind: If it moves and it shouldn’t, use duct tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40.


You’re familiar with tools used to assemble things by hand. Screwdrivers, hammers, clamps, wrenches, and the like need no introduction. As discussed in Chapter 7, shims of various materials and sizes are always good to have around as well, as they fill in gaps.


While you can simulate an assembly digitally through 3D modeling software, the only digital way to assemble real-world parts is with a robot. Since we don’t have thousands of dollars for assembly-line robots and pick-and-place machines, this means we’re usually stuck with analog assembly. You can automate this process a bit by making exploded views of assemblies if you used CAD software in your design phase.


Proliferation is the phase where you share what you’ve done. Show it, teach it, get feedback, sell it, make it better, and then start on the next iteration—or inspire someone else to—and close the loop on the making things move ecosystem.

FIGURE 9-8 Closed and open sharing models


Some things can be protected by copyright or patents, and some can’t. Figure 9-8 (inspired by a graphic in a talk by Johanna Blakely at TEDx USC; see provides an overview of the situation. However, there is a growing open-culture movement of people and organizations who choose to share their work in less restrictive ways.

If you’ve ever used Mozilla’s Firefox browser, you’re familiar with the product of an open source software project. For digital files like photographs and online content, Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that increases sharing and improves collaboration. Using Creative Commons (CC) licenses on your work (instead of © for copyright) can allow you to share, remix, and reuse other people’s work legally. If you try to upload a 3D model to Thingiverse (, you’ll get to a section where you can choose a CC license for your work to encourage sharing.

Hardware is a different issue. Patents protect designs and things, but there is not yet a CC version of a patent that allows you to reserve some rights to your work but encourage sharing. Luckily, the Creative Commons organization is working on that. A good summary of legal issues around opening hardware exists at, which is the archive of a workshop held at Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, led by Ayah Bdeir with Creative Commons. The first Open Hardware Summit addressing these types of issues and releasing a definition of open source hardware was held on September 23, 2010.


International festivals and fairs like Maker Faire are great places to share your work and get inspiration to do more making. On a local level, there are plenty of events, hackerspaces, galleries, university programs, and performance spaces that encourage you to share or showcase your work. Check for a list of maker community groups and spaces.


I’ve already mentioned a few places where you can post your designs online to share or sell. You can post just about any makeable digital file on Thingiverse. Share, make, and sell work that can be laser cut on, and do the same on for 3D models. is a user-friendly site you can use to write detailed instructions on how to make something and include pictures so other people can do the same. You can even open your own online shop, or use as your storefront.


1. Saul Griffith, “Simply Cad,” Make Magazine (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly, Volume 6).